Anne Holland

Best Summer Reading for Marketers – 'The Ad Men and Women'

Like nearly everyone else in the ad world, especially those us of over 40, I avidly watched the first two episodes of AMC’s new Mad Men TV series.

As its ‘Making Of’ trailer on iTunes explains, the show’s creators leapt through hoops to make sure the show accurately depicts Madison Avenue ad agencies in the spring of 1960. I was bemused by the show’s relentless in-office smoking, drinking, tie-wearing and, of course, rampant sexism.

However, a mistake in the first episode broke that spell for me.

To illustrate how hung over the agency’s creative director is, we’re shown a close-up of two Alka-Seltzers fizzing away in a glass of water. The image works great, except for the fact that the idea of using two Alka-Seltzers (instead of just one) wasn’t invented until about five years later, in an ad campaign during the mid-sixties.

Plus, the creative team behind that breakthrough (which wound up nearly doubling its client’s sales), was lead by not by an ad man, but by an ad woman–Mary Wells.

Mary Wells wasn’t the sole top woman in the field back then. In fact, nine out of the 54 greatest advertising creatives of the past featured in ‘The Ad Men and Women’, a fascinating collection of bios edited by Professor Edd Applegate, are women.

While watching ‘Mad Men’ is an entertaining way to spend an evening, if you’re looking for inspiration from ad pros of the past, I suggest you get yourself a copy of ‘The Ad Men and Women’ instead.

Discover how dead-honest copy (to the point of calling your product “rotten”) can dramatically raise response; how to rename a product to increase sales (example: war bonds vs. peace bonds); how to use a silly contest for seriously big publicity (example: Scientific American’s paper airplane fly-off in New York), etc.

Plus, you’ll find this book insightful if you’re considering your own career trajectory. Should you move from client-side to agency-side (or vice versa?) Should you join a bigger name firm? Should you defect to launch your own ad shop?

If you’re marketing for any of the brands named in this volume, from Alka-Seltzer to the YWCA, you’ll learn how they became so famous in the first place, leading perhaps to an idea to sustain that fame in the 21st century.

Very few of us have any sense of ad history outside of dancing cigarette boxes on 1950s TV shows that we’ve seen in movies. So, it’s easy to presume marketers of yesteryear were a bit amateurish and dumb. As this book proves, nothing could be further from the truth.

We, marketers of 2007, have enormous shoes to fill — and it just so happens many of them were high heels.

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